- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2017

There’s a doctoral dissertation to be written on the correlation between chess mastery and political supremacy.

Consider: The Persians and Arabs ruled the chess world in the Middle Ages until Italy ignited a renaissance for the game in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. By the early 19th century, Britain and France were producing the world’s best players, with matches between Paris and London routinely matching the greatest stars of the day.

A rising Germany would supplant its rivals by the end of the 19th century — and the German surge would be abruptly checked in the wake of World War I. Newcomers from the New World then took the stage, with Cuba’s Jose Raoul Capablanca winning the world title in 1921 and the U.S. Olympiad team winning gold three times in the biennial event from 1931 to 1937.

One could also track the fortunes of the Soviet Union as a rising and falling superpower from its results at the chessboard. Starting with Mikhail Botvinnik in the 1930s, the Soviet chess machine turned out a dominating string of champions — save for the Bobby Fischer interregnum — right up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

As Russia has faded, the chess world has welcomed a new crop of superpowers from the east — with India producing a world chess champion in Viswanathan Anand and China dominating the women’s game with a string of top female players.

Whether the U.S. victory in last October’s Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan — the first in four decades — was an early omen of “making America great again” we leave for the political pundits to ponder.

Such geopolitical musings were inspired by last week’s 1st BRICS Masters rapid tournament in China. The “BRICS” nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — have touted themselves as the world’s rising powers, ready to challenge the lone U.S. superpower. For what it’s worth, Chinese GM Yu Yangyi won the event, a half-point ahead of India’s S.P. Sethuraman. The Indian GM won a consolation prize of sorts, defeating compatriot GM Surya Ganguly in one of the best games of the events.

In a French Alekhine-Chatard attack, Black pays the price for failing to protect his king (better was 11…Qc7 12. Nf3 0-0-0, with equality), as Sethuraman unleashes a classic line-opening central pawn sacrifice: 14. Ng5! (chaining the Black king to the defense of the f-pawn) h4 15. Bc4 Nf8 (see diagram; White was already threatening 16. Nxf7 Kxf7 17. Rxe6 Kf8 18. Rxe7 Kxe7 19. Qg5+ Kf8 20. Qg6, winning) 16. d5!, when White is better after both 16…cxd5 17. Bxd5 exd5 18. Nxd5 Bxd5 19. Qxd5, threatening the rook and 20. Qxf7 mate; and 16…exd5 17. Bxd5 cxd5 (0-0-0 18. Nxf7 cxd5 19. Nb5 Qc5 20. Rxe7! Qxe7 21. Qc3+ Kb8 22. Nxd8 Qxd8 23. Qxh8) 18. Nxd5.

The rest is a rout: 16…Rd8 17. Nb5! Qd7 (cxb5 18. Bxb5+ Nd7 19. dxe6 fxe6 20. Nxe6 Qb8 21. Qc3 Rh7 22. Nxd8 Qxd8 23. Bxd7+ and wins) 18. Nxf7 (also winning was 18. dxe6 fxe6 19. Qe2 Qc8 20. Qe5 Ng6 21. Qg7) cxd5 (Kxf7 19. dxe6+, while 18…Rg8 meets with 19. dxe6 Nxe6 [Qxd2 20. Nc7 mate!] 20. Nbd6+ Bxd6 21. Nxd6+ Qxd6 22. Rxe6+ Qxe6 23. Qxd8+) 19. Nxh8 dxc4 20. Qe2!, and Ganguly resigns facing losing lines such as 20…Qxb5 21. Qh5+ Ng6 22. Qxg6+ Kf8 23. Qf7 mate.

Sethuraman-Ganguly, 1st BRICS Masters, Fufeng, China, April 2017

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 dxe4 5. Nxe4 Be7 6. Bxf6 gxf6 7. Qd2 b6 8. Nc3 c6 9. O-O-O Bb7 10. Be2 Nd7 11. Kb1 h5 12. Nh3 f5 13. Rhe1 Qc7 14. Ng5 h4 15. Bc4 Nf8 16. d5 Rd8 17. Nb5 Qd7 18. Nxf7 cxd5 19. Nxh8 dxc4 20. Qe2 Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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